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Making the Monarch: A Revolutionary Device for All

Two hands wearing several rings feel a tactile graphic of a car displayed on the Monarch’s 10-line by 32-cell refreshable braille display.

People often picture the majestic butterfly when they hear the name “Monarch.” As part of our braille metamorphosis at APH, we’ve created a new Monarch─a multi-line display that can render braille and tactile graphics on the same surface. This Holy Braille of access technology will forever change how students who are blind or low vision access class materials.

Why the Monarch?

The Monarch solves two major problems that students face today. First, even if teachers order their braille textbooks ahead of time, they are often not delivered to students until after the class is already finished covering the material in that particular textbook. The Monarch will solve this issue as textbooks will be available instantaneously on its digital display. “We’re expecting that this is going to save anywhere from two to three months of delivery time and anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 in costs,” said APH’s Senior Director of Global Innovation, Greg Stilson.

Second, if a teacher forgets to give a worksheet or document to a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI), the TVI must scramble to make that material accessible before class. The Monarch gives teachers the opportunity to provide those materials in the form of a Word document on a thumb drive so students can access them in real-time with their classmates. “This is a tool that a student will be able to use in virtually every class that they’re in, from content creation to content consumption, to graphical interpretation,” said Greg.

Making the Monarch

Creating a device of this magnitude could not be done alone. APH partnered with HumanWare to manufacture the Monarch, which uses braille cells that can be stacked in an equidistant tactile array to create braille and tactile graphics. “We also worked with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to ensure that throughout the development, we kept the voice of the customer at the forefront,” said Greg.

About the size of a 15-inch gaming laptop, the Monarch weighs close to four and a half pounds. Featuring an 8-dot Perkins braille keyboard, up and down arrows, direction pads, Android navigation keys, and a 10 line by 32 cell refreshable braille display, the Monarch has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, over 24 hours of battery life, and a suite of apps tailored to assist students in all their classes. These include:

  • Braille Editor: simulates the experience of typing on a Perkins brailler and can also create and edit BRFs as well as eBRFs
  • Tactile Viewer: allows users to look at graphics that are on the device or a thumb drive and connects via Wi-Fi to APH’s Tactile Graphics Image Library
  • Word Processor: creates and edits Word documents using multiline braille and also has a math editing capability
  • KeyMath: a graphing calculator created in partnership with Desmos that allows students to graph tactile functions on demand for the first time ever
  • Victor Reader: downloads books from Bookshare and newspapers from NFB Newsline

Monarch Metamorphosis

Throughout a typical school year, students who are blind or low vision learn using only 15-25 tactile graphics. The Monarch seeks to level the playing field by giving students who are blind or low vision access to more graphics than ever before. “One of the most understated benefits that you’re going to see from the Monarch is that kids are going to learn how to read with two hands, instead of one, as seen when using a one-line braille display,” says Greg. “They’re going to learn proper tracking techniques and understand spatial formatting in documents and in tactile graphics.” Greg said the new, innovative technology that the Monarch provides would have enticed him to read more braille when he was in school. He said, “I would be a better professional writer, and it would have changed the way I access math and science.”

Always growing to meet the needs of users, future updates to the Monarch will include a gamified tutorial at start-up; a tactile chess game; a braille terminal app for pairing the Monarch to computers, tablets, and phones; along with a new drawing app where TVIs will be able to draw a sketch of a graphic and cast it onto the Monarch for the student to reference.

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